Israeli rabbis lead reconciliatory visit to torched West Bank mosque

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Israeli rabbis visit torched West Bank mosque

BEIT FAJJAR, West Bank — Six rabbis from West Bank settlements took a step Tuesday to defuse tension over an arson attack at a West Bank mosque, apparently by extremist settlers — they presented 20 new Quran books to replace those damaged in the blaze.

During the rabbis’ visit to the mosque in the village of Beit Fajjar, Palestinian residents held charred pages of the burned Quran books. The mosque was not seriously damaged.

Israelis and Palestinians denounced the fire. The attackers left Hebrew slogans on the mosque walls, including the word “revenge.” It appeared to be the latest action in a campaign that extremist Jewish settlers call the “price tag,” their response to moves by their government to remove unauthorized settlement outposts and other similar measures.

Israeli politicians rushed to condemn Monday’s attack. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his security forces “to act with determination” to bring the arsonists to justice. Defense Minister Ehud Barak described it as a “shameful act.”

It came as Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. negotiators tried to salvage peace talks by working out a deal over Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he will not continue the talks restarted last month by President Barack Obama if Israel does not renew a construction slowdown. Israel refused, but Netanyahu appealed to Abbas to stick with the negotiations.

Rabbi Menachem Froman from the nearby settlement of Tekoah, the leader of Tuesday’s reconciliatory visit to Beit Fajjar, said those who committed the attack “oppose peace.” Froman said it was his third visit to a West Bank mosque damaged in arson attacks blamed on Israeli settlers.

Froman said the rabbis were received warmly. “They thanked us for coming to identify with them over the sorrow that took place,” he said later in a telephone interview.

Taking the new Quran books, a local religious leader said he was accepting them in the name of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Israel is holding about 9,000 Palestinians.

After the visit, a small clash erupted, with Palestinian youths throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas grenades. There were no reports of casualties.

In another clash, Israeli activists, settlers and police scuffled in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, and two Israelis were arrested, activists said. Israeli police had no comment.

Israeli settlers have taken over property in Sheikh Jarrah after Israeli courts ruled that they had valid ownership rights. Dovish Israelis have been demonstrating there in support of Palestinians who were evicted.

Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Associated Press writer Tia Goldenberg contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

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